|From:||Kendal J T.|
|Sent on:||Monday, October 24, 2011 9:03 AM|
Here's an electronic copy of the article that appeared in the Thursday 10/20/11 edition of the Petoskey News Review. Rachel Bougham, the reporter who covered the school board meeting, was kind enough to send a copy this morning. She says that, for some reason, the article, which was on the fron page of the Friday paper, never made it into the online edition. Strange, huh? We'll be following this story as it unfolds.
The Petoskey Public Schools Board of Education, for now, put a halt on a religious-based organization that had been coming into the district and making itself available to students during their lunch hour.
In front of a standing room only crowd, the board voted unanimously Thursday to put a hold on any new outside group — one without a school affiliation — until the board could create a policy addressing the issue of who should have access to students and when.
At issue is the organization, Young Life, a Christian-based group that is currently in 2,200 high schools and 1,100 middle schools around the country.
The group was founded in 1941, but is new to the Northern Michigan as of this summer.
On the Young Life website it states, “We are committed to introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith. Young Life also aims to establish and maintain a presence at all high schools and middle schools in the local area.”
“We’ve had concerns in the community regarding this group, Young Life, specifically if they violate church and state separation and when and where they are meeting students in the school,” said school board president, Mary Ling.
Ling said that when Young Life first approached the board about coming into Petoskey schools, she was told all students would be approached equally, no matter what their faith, and that the group would respect the separation of church and state.
The group has recently been meeting with students during their lunch hour at both Petoskey Middle School and Petoskey High School.
“I was told there would never be a church agenda,” Ling added. “If this has been perceived as a violation, I apologize. That was never the agenda of the board.”
Dr. John Scholten, Petoskey Public Schools superintendent, said in recent weeks, has asked high school principal, Jim Kanine, and middle school principal, Dan Taylor, if they had heard or witnessed any violation of church and state. Neither principal said they had.
“We have a lot of outside groups come in and work with our kids,” Scholten said. “We have volunteers that mentor and provide support. We have a lot of kids in need in our district that don’t always have support at home, and it is imperative we find ways to meet their needs.”
Scholten added that he doesn’t believe the issue at hand is a Young Life issue, but rather the issue as to who has access to students and how does the district decide who has access to students during the school day.
Carolyn Matzinger, a fifth-grade teacher at Petoskey’s Central Elementary, and parent of a freshman at Petoskey High School, said she didn’t know about the Young Life group until a week ago, and that she had no idea such a group would have access to her daughter and her classmates during school hours.
“I think the group is wonderful, but I just have concerns over their message and their access to students,” Matzinger told the board. “I don’t feel that it’s proper to have this at a public school. The Public Schools of Petoskey are a special place for everyone, not just for Christians.”
“Access to our students has opened a Pandora’s box,” added Sherry McGuffin.
McGuffin, who is a pastor at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Petoskey, said she went through the Young Life program during her teen years.
“I was a teacher for 10 years and now I teach at the college and we even have rules there about this kind of thing,” McGuffin told the board. “I have nothing against extra-curricular activities, but I hope they have a job description and don’t just wander in and help.”
Cory Gibson, a full time employee with Young Life, and parent of a Petoskey student, said his organization is here because they want to be there for students.
Each employee and volunteer with Young Life undergoes a background check and training.
“We have no hidden agenda. We care for all kids, regardless of what they believe or don’t believe,” Gibson told the crowd. “We are there for support. I mean it when I say it. We just want to be there for them and for the child to know there is an adult there that cares for them.”
Scholten said by district policy, all volunteers at the school do under go background checks.
While there are currently other religious-based groups that meet with students on school grounds, students involved with those organizations do have to have a parent’s permission.
For now, Young Life will have to hold off on meeting with students during lunch hour and at the schools, while the board decides if the organization will be able move forward with the district.
Already established programs within Petoskey Public Schools will continue. The board hopes to meet before the next regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17 to discuss the policy.
“We all want to provide support for the kids in need, I don’t think anyone in this room is not wanting to support the kids,” Scholten said.
“I’ve never heard Cory say anything other than that the group wants to support our kids, but because of the broad exposure, we need to clarify this issue through policy.”